The Value of Municipal Security Solutions

As security systems integrators explore emerging markets that offer significant potential for growth, few areas offer as much promise as the burgeoning municipal security space. The use of CCTV as a law enforcement tool has dramatically increased in past 10 years in Europe and Latin America. Currently, the UK has more video surveillance systems per capita than any other country in the world and more than 89 cities in Latin America use citywide surveillance.

Traditionally, municipalities in the United States have been more reluctant to deploy video surveillance solutions for public safety monitoring. However, recent spikes in drug trafficking and violent crime in certain cities have prompted police departments, community associations and local business districts to explore the deployment of surveillance technologies to reduce crime, increase property values and bring customers back into their businesses. In fact 36 cities in the US have installed public safety networks, with most being used for CCTV, and more than 149 cities across the US have plans to install public safety networks in the next five years.

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There are many factors driving the proliferation of video surveillance technologies for municipal security applications in the United States. Some are obvious, including crime prevention and emergency preparedness, while others are not so easy to see, including the rapid build-out of municipal wireless IP networks that serve as a backbone for video surveillance applications.

Challenges with Municipal Security Solutions

As integrators begin to explore the municipal security space, there are three key challenges they need to be aware of. The first is the difficulty presented by the geographically dispersed, widespread nature of municipal security environments. Municipal security solutions must cover multiple square blocks, sometimes even square miles, and must be able to work around obstacles including buildings, bridges and a variety of structures. They must also be unobtrusive in order to avoid widespread resistance from the community. Cameras must be placed in remote, hard to reach locations such as atop traffic signals, light posts or building rooftops. The distributed nature of these systems often makes wiring and installation a significant challenge.

Another challenge is the integration of a municipal security solution with a variety of standalone security, business and information systems that are often already in-place in major cities. In order to be an effective threat prevention and emergency response tool, a municipal video security solution must bring all of these disparate systems together to provide a unified view of security information, delivered to the appropriate people in order for a timely and effective response. Disparate camera views, limited video distribution and isolated alarms do not present an accurate and comprehensive view of events as they happen; providing little value to first responders and law enforcement agencies.

Finally, a municipal security solution must meet the challenge of providing flexible 24x7 access to information for a variety of purposes. Video data is often shared among law enforcement, government, and private organizations that are responsible for securing the infrastructure and facilities across the city. Video data must therefore be easily and securely distributed to multiple locations simultaneously. In the event that a security incident does occur, investigative agencies must have immediate access live and stored video data to determine what is happening, how to appropriately respond to emergency situations and to help prevent future incidents.

Designing a Municipal Security Solution

A municipal surveillance solution designed to protect the people property and assets in an urban environment can play an integral role in the revitalization and well-being of a city, its citizens and its economy. To derive maximum ROI, a municipal security solution must contain certain crucial features including network-intelligent video distribution, resilient system design, industry-leading wireless technology, and an open, IT-friendly architecture.

These features will help law enforcement personnel secure diverse urban environments ranging from city blocks and parks to monuments and parking structures. A comprehensive networked video solution transforms video into value, delivering information that the security and law enforcement community can use for deterring crime and promoting a safe environment for people and commerce.

Identifying Risks Before They Escalate

Modern, networked video solutions provide an excellent platform for the deployment of sophisticated analytics technologies in municipal security settings that can automatically identify suspicious or criminal behaviors before they escalate. Once detected, these security breaches trigger alerts and deliver the most critical and timely information to law enforcement personnel so immediate action can be taken. Video analytics technologies can reduce the number of resources required to monitor and patrol urban environments while promoting strict adherence to local laws and community charters.

In order to reap the maximum benefit from video analytics, municipal surveillance solutions should include a flexible rules engine that allows law enforcement to define sensitive areas and determine what objects or movements constitute an illegal or undesirable behavior.

Powerful video analytics, combined with a sophisticated rules engine, are capable of differentiating between people and inanimate objects, and initiating actions based on appropriate parameters of movement within locations that have been identified as high risk. In addition, analytics facilitate the establishment of virtual perimeters around street corners, city blocks or back alleys that are known for criminal activity. Virtual perimeters are a series of tripwires or boundaries that users define, using a point-and-click interface, within various camera views. When a virtual boundary is crossed, an alert is generated and distributed according the rules defined by security personnel.

For example, a virtual perimeter can be established in a camera view that monitors a parking structure where multiple vehicle thefts have occurred. The virtual perimeters could be established at the on-foot entrance to the structure, as well and where the vehicles exit the facility. If foot traffic is detected within these perimeters between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., an alert would be sent to a monitoring station, enabling security personnel to take appropriate action. If a theft occurs, the vehicle could be tracked as it exits the facility and a patrol car could be dispatched to the location to intercept the criminal. This actionable intelligence can help reduce the escalation of crime and also serve as evidence in the pending criminal case. This example illustrates how analytics can increase the efficiency of existing law enforcement resources, while facilitating new levels of crime prevention in a specific area.

Along with movement, a municipal surveillance solution must be capable of detecting people, objects or vehicles that remain in or near sensitive areas in excess of a certain length of time. This includes detecting loitering subjects as well as those who are engaging in criminal or anti-social behavior.

Reacting Effectively to an Emergency

Incidents like the London Underground bombings show us that suspicious behavior in an urban environment does not always precede a security breach, making it hard to eliminate all risks. Video imagery of the four men in backpacks entering London's subway did not trigger any visual alarms within their municipal surveillance system. So, when a security breach in a municipal setting occurs, a timely and well orchestrated response can mean the difference between a contained incident and a broader problem.

Networked video systems can help law enforcement personnel maintain command and control during emergency situations and can aid in effective criminal apprehension. These systems provide better situational awareness and provide comprehensive access to data generated by disparate alarm systems and other surveillance systems typically present in an urban environment. By integrating all of this information with video data, automatic actions can be triggered to support established security procedures, including adjusting camera angles, video recording rates and quality levels, locking access control doors and raising barriers. To ensure integration of a networked video solution with other municipal security systems, it must be built on open standards that allow for seamless communication between all security systems within an urban environment.

In addition, as an incident unfolds, security personnel need the ability to track activity across a number of different camera views. Since cameras in municipal environments are often spread across city blocks, networked video solutions can employ a method called "scene stitching." Scene stitching involves combining the images from many cameras, spread across expansive locations, in real time to compose a single wide format view. Scene stitching is crucial when the area being observed includes multiple city blocks. By allowing the user to view a mosaic image in a seamless single view, law enforcement and security personnel can identify, track and address an assortment of subjects (people, vehicles) over a wide area, without losing a line of sight.

Finally, as an incident is occurring within an urban environment, a networked video solution must be capable of communicating with external systems in order to distribute valuable information to the people that need it most. By integrating with external systems, relevant data and video footage can be streamed in real time to emergency management and response centers and federal and state law enforcement. This level of visibility ensures that appropriate resources are deployed in response to the emergency while reducing reaction time; both crucial steps in mitigating risk in an emergency situation.

Facilitating Criminal Investigations

Following a crime or emergency situation, law enforcement personnel need to rapidly understand what occurred and collaborate with other departments to share this intelligence. A sophisticated networked video solution helps law enforcement reduce the time required to sift through thousands of hours of video to identify what's important to an investigation, and then to package that information for the proper investigative personnel. With the right solution, gathering case-related audio, video, and data from an array of cameras and systems is as easy as searching within one database.

Intelligence gleaned from post-event investigations can also be incorporated when revising law enforcement policies and procedures. So threat detection emergency management and forensic investigation can become a closed loop process that enhances the overall effectiveness of security programs and policies.

In conclusion, a robust, open and comprehensive networked video solution can significantly enhance situational awareness for municipalities, positioning them to more effectively deter crime and promote a safe environment for people and commerce.

About the author: Mariann McDonagh is executive vice president of global marketing for video surveillance solutions and analytics company Verint Systems.

Learn More:
Webinar: Protecting Cities Worldwide
Case studies of best practices in Municipal Security
Date: Aug. 28, 2007
Register today (registration is complimentary)